Storytelling, scarabs, baseball, a toff

Books of the Region

July 11, 1999|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

It would be quite possible to go through the summer reading solely on the novels of one contemporary Maryland author and -- such is Nora Roberts' productivity -- nevertheless arriving nowhere near the end of her list of published titles.

Here are three more -- just from the forepart of 1999. One has a local setting; one blips to New York City in the year 2059; one happens mostly in the Northwest. How, tossing in dollops of descriptive detail, does a person from Keedysville manage all this?

Roberts writes at some length, yet every book can be counted on for right words, flesh-and-blood people, natural talk and smooth action flow. A storyteller is at work. Conceivably, Nora Roberts will some time slow down, loosen the he-she bind, look into noncriminal behavior, but why spoil summer for so many, many Americans?

"Inner Harbor" (Berkley, 342 pages, $7.50 softbound) takes place mostly on the Eastern Shore, at "St. Christopher," but the male lead's weekday apartment is in a downtown highrise. Here, ad man; there, boat builder. The difficulty has to do with foster sons, and a female villain out to wreck that fragile arrangement.

Roberts writes whole sequences of novels under several names. "Conspiracy in Death" (her eighth "Death" title), by J. D. Robb (a pseudonym) (Berkley, 387 pages, $6.99 paperbound) once again stars NYPD Lt. Eve Dallas. Sixty years into the future, people are still being smeerped serially; more fancifully, though. Dallas' very job is in peril.

As for the state of Washington, "River's End" (Roberts' byline) (Putnam, 420 pages, $23.95), uses it for the long, uncertain salvation of a young woman whose Hollywood childhood ended in horror.

Given the opportunity, at what time and place would you choose to be reborn? No statistics are at hand, but many popular novels expect readers to have in mind early 19th century England. A stable, prosperous, civilized society; stratified, yes, but adventurous. Dominic Renbourne was nearly killed at Waterloo. Meriel Grahame was nearly killed when bandits burned down a British outpost in India.

Where "The Wild Child," by Mary Jo Putney (Ballantine, 311 pages, $19.95) gets complicated is that Meriel, who has money and a title, stopped speaking. For his part, Dominic has a twin, Kyle, who expects to merge his money and title with Meriel's via arranged marriage. Naturally, the brother whose heart thumps in Meriel's presence -- hers pounds too, when he climbs up into her treehouse -- is Dominic, he of the lesser prospects.

Putney relishes the speech and dress styles of the squirearchy but, in the spirit of obstructive obstacle, also takes us inside the unfriendly neighborhood madhouse. With some 20 novels to her credit, Putney has become adept at atmosphere, pace and eros.

Mysterious Egypt, the ads and posters forever call it, though of course the basic puzzle ended with Jean-Francois Champollion's decipherment of hieroglyphic writing. But try telling that to the readers of Elizabeth Peters' mysteries -- novels set in A.D. rather than B.C. Tomb-robbing? Tut-tut.

The perils that lie in wait for two Britons -- Amelia Peabody, amateur detective, and her blustering archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson -- are personal and lethal.

Because Amelia was still alive at the end of 10 previous books, no doubt she'll be around to perform the thread-untangling that ends this year's "The Falcon at the Portal" (Avon, 366 pages, $24). (The cartouche rendered on the title page as "Elizabeth Peters" really means Barbara Mertz, of Frederick.)

Nor is anyone going to bump off Flinders Petrie, T. E. Lawrence or Howard Carter, as those historical personages saunter by.

But an Early Kingdom step pyramid invites closer examination. And attractive young people cluster about the Emersons, scarab forgeries turn up, nationalism flares (it's about 1912). One local Englishman is a rotter; Cairo teems; assassins lurk. In ample measure, Barbara Mertz ladles out charm, Nilotic environment and danger.

Two books, essential aids to the baseball-minded Baltimorean, have become outdated. Let the official scorer note that "The Book of Baltimore Orioles Lists," by David Pugh (American Literary Press, 206 pages, $9.95 paperbound), and "Day by Day in Baltimore Orioles History," by Ted Patterson (Sports Publishing, 186 pages, $19.95 paperbound; oversize) are newly out again, complete through 1998.

That's 633 players, only one of whom has a last name beginning with U (to make it easy: a left-handed 1984 pitcher). As for July 11, it's just 31 years since Earl Weaver took over as manager, replacing whatsizname.

Nifty stuff, throughout Pugh and Patterson. The oldest, the youngest boxscore name? (Rick Dempsey, 43; Frank Zupo, 17 years, 2 months, 10 days.) Can you compose an all-Bob batting order? Back to the calendar, consider Dec. 25 -- so far, blank in Oriole history. What would be the present team's best possible Christmas present?

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